The British Beekeepers Association estimates that the number of bee colonies fell by 16 per cent last year

The Soil Association has warned of the 'chemical cocktails' bees are ingesting through pollinating UK crops.

The organics charity backed a new US bee study claiming many common pesticides and fungicides, not expected to be lethal to bees, double or even triple the risk of disease for the insects.

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, believes that pesticide use by UK growers is currently 'too high.'

She claimed: 'While the US study found on average 9 different pesticides in pollen, in the UK an average of 20 different pesticides are applied to fruit, 12 to vegetables and 16 to arable crops. For Strawberries, the average number of different pesticides used last year was nearly 30.'

Hockridge has called for the UK government to look deeper into pesticide use or risks bee populations dropping even further.

She added: 'We are calling for urgent research into the cocktail effect of pesticides to be examined for similar indirect effects. We need to get off the chemical treadmill and focus on alternative ways of controlling pests and fungal disease, for example by using agroecological approaches such as organic farming.”

In a recent exclusive interview with FPJ,Dr Stephen Humphreys, a food industry manager at Bayer CropScience, claimed that it was the Varroa mite, rather than pesticides such as neonicotinoids, causing the most damage to UK bee populations. TheVarroa is an external parasitic mite that attacks honeybees, leaving them susceptible to a host of infections.

However, Hockridgedisagrees with Humphrey'sviews. She countered: 'Moreover, the new study shows these chemicals are having unpredictable indirect effects. European research has already shown neonicotinoid insecticides increase the impact of Varroa mites on honey bees.'